There's little that can be called derivative about this droll, grim-faced comedy from Argentina, though Luis Bunuel's caustic social satire would appear to be the obvious reference point; it's as if director Lucrecia Martel took a hard look at the bourgeoisie and simply arrived at the same conclusions. Mecha (Graciela Borges), her husband Gregorio (Martin Adjemian) and their friends are spending another stiflingly humid summer's day swilling wine and lolling about the fetid swimming pool of La Mandragora, their crumbling summer estate, when the sound of thunder and the threat of rain rouses Mecha from her drunken midday torpor. But no sooner is she up than she's down again in a crash of broken wine glasses that sends her adolescent daughters (Sofia Bertolotto, Noelia Bravo Herrera) scrambling for the car keys and Mecha straight into the emergency room. On hearing the news, Mecha's distant cousin, Tali (Mercedes Moran), marshals her own four kids and husband, Rafael (Daniel Valenzuela), for a visit, though no one seems particularly excited about making the trip. Rafael, who works as a factory manager, clearly resents the other family's wealth, and Tali has nothing but contempt for tacky Gregorio, who's had the nerve to carry on a flagrant affair with Mecha's old friend Mercedes (Silvia Bayle). Also on the way home is Jose (Juan Cruz Bordeu), Mecha's oldest child, who now lives in Buenos Aires and just happens to be in business — when he's not in bed — with Mercedes. As the thick summer air grows heavier and the constant rumbling of thunder grows louder, Mecha takes to her bed, fretting over her stitches and the damage done to her cleavage, treating the native servants like dirt and wondering between drinks if she'll ever get up again. The rest of the country, meanwhile, is transfixed by daily news reports of the appearance of the Virgin Mary on the side of a rusting water tank. "La Cienaga" roughly translates as "The Swamp," and Martel couldn't have chosen a more apt title. Like the filthy swimming pool that forms the central image, family is seen as a stagnating morass that's become the breeding ground for all sorts of nasty feelings, including envy, self-pity and terminal ennui. The only ones who show a shred of decency are the put-upon servants and the very young. Martel can barely contain her disgust, and like Bunuel before her, she knows just when to cut the laughs and go straight for the throat.
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